- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2003


For fans of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, that sound was unmistakable. It was the sound of the magic surrounding their team’s incredible playoff run going up in smoke. It was the sound suggesting quite strongly that the Angels will be the only league champion in Anaheim when the NHL playoffs are over.

The New Jersey Devils, playing the same stingy game that had brought them two NHL championships in the last eight years and has put them in the finals three times in the last four years, scored a pair of opportunistic goals in the second period last night and started erasing anything but faint hope for the Ducks.

New Jersey won 3-0 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Finals, with Game 3tomorrow night and Game 4Monday night, both in Anaheim. Game5, if needed, will be Thursday night back in East Rutherford, where they hold victory parades in the parking lots surrounding the Continental Airlines Arena.

“You don’t know what to expect when series start because we don’t know how things are going to go,” said Devils coach Pat Burns. “You don’t know if it’s going to be tight or wide open — you don’t know those things until the games are played. If you had asked me before the series if we would have had two shutouts, I would have said ‘Yeah, sure.’ Are you surprised? Of course you are. But the guys deserved it because they played well.”

The Devils are now 10-1 at home in the playoffs this season and have allowed just 10 goals. And the Devils are 10-0 this playoff season when they score first.

Anaheim? It lost Game1 by 3-0 to trail in a series for the first time since the tournament started April9. It is now down by two games (it had a 12-2 record entering the finals) and has shown it can’t handle anything the Devils do — their physicality, their 1-on-1 play along the boards or in front of the net, their ability to use four lines with positive results, their ability to defend.

More than anything else, the difference has been in goal, where an intense confrontation was expected and the winner of which would probably be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. The matchup pits veteran Martin Brodeur, widely considered the best in the game, against a rapidly rising but inexperienced younger man, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. But Brodeur made the contest a laugher.

What Brodeur is doing is turning this into the same kind of nightmare that Anaheim caused for Minnesota. In the Western finals the Wild scored only one goal in four games, and the Ducks are now looking at the same prospect.

“It looks like they’re doing to us what we did to three teams before we got here,” said Anaheim coach Mike Babcock.

Brodeur hasn’t been at his best because he hasn’t needed to be. His teammates have built a stone wall in front of him, allowing the 31-year-old goalie to get by with a series of routine stops.

Brodeur’s shutout was his second straight and runs his shutout string to 138 minutes, 7 seconds, going back to the Ottawa series. It was his sixth shutout of the playoff season — tying Dominik Hasek’s one-season record — and the 19th of his career. Brodeur faced just 16 shots for the second straight game.

Patrik Elias got a good bounce five minutes into the second and had an easy tap-in for the first Devils goal. An Oleg Tverdovsky drive from the blue line glanced off Scott Gomez at 12:11 of the second for the next New Jersey goal. And Jeff Friesen continued his torrid streak, scoring at 4:22 of the third for his sixth goal in his last eight games.

From the NHL’s standpoint, the shutout was noteworthy but not exactly what it had in mind. The league has been claiming scoring is up with new rule changes but last night’s shutout was the 17th in 84 games this postseason, a rate of one whitewash every five games.

It is the worst start for a Stanley Cup finalist since 1945. In that series, Detroit was shut out in its first three games against Toronto, won the next three to tie the series but lost the seventh game and the Cup.

Is there no hope for the Ducks? There is hope, but it’s slim. Toronto in 1942 and Montreal in 1966 and 1971 all came back from 0-2 deficits to win the Cup.

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